I have a technical question about my wine list that I hope you can help me with.
A winemaker says he does not spray any chemicals on his grapes and says he is "natural without compromises". But he uses copper and sulphur, as well as treatments based on propolis. So I'm not sure if he would be organic or natural or sustainable. Can you give me some guidance? He's in Italy, not the US by the way.
I don’t know how helpful I can be. Basically you are asking me to make bricks without straw, except the base material isn’t even mud – it’s pure bullshit.
The terms “natural” and “sustainable” have no actual meaning in any body of law I know of. They were developed so we can have nice-sounding commercial categories in a world where organic certification is so screwed up that noone wants to use it. Until they are defined, you have to take the winegrower’s word for it. Not the worst thing in the world to trust somebody who at least knows what he’s talking about.
The term “chemicals” has a scientific definition and a pop definition which are completely incongruent. Organic certification is legally supported and precisely defined, but the rules are bizarre, including pointless restrictions and gaping loopholes. Sulphur dusting and copper-containing Bordeaux mixture are acceptable for organic certification although both are toxic to workers and copper has been found to be harmful to fish, livestock and—due to potential build up of copper in the soil—earthworms.
Any substance is made of chemicals. Water is a chemical. If he sprays anything on his grapes, it's made from chemicals. The pop definition implies “bad chemicals; harmful, industrial, synthetic chemicals.” Water, of course, can be synthesized and can be harmful, but I’m mostly in favor of it. How can you tell bad chemicals? Either you ask a certification board or you trust the grower. Or ask what he does use. This I could research for you.
“Sustainable” at least implies some sort of neutral carbon footprint, and has the potential for validation organizations to spring up eventually. I am convinced that “Natural” is the most worthless of these terms because the factions involved will never agree on what it means. See my article on AppellationAmerica.com. I believe the best way to tell if something is natural is just to ask Alice Feiring. It’s her personal word, and like pornography, she knows it when she sees it, even if nobody else does.
The nearest I can slice your guy is that he isn’t using anything banned from the organic certification but isn’t certified (he would say so) for some obscure reason. Perhaps he hasn’t made it through the three year waiting period, or the local certifier has a feud with his uncle. Maybe he hates paperwork.
Or maybe, like most farmers, he is doing what he thinks is right; following the rules that make sense to him and ignoring the idiotic. That sounds uncompromising to me.